One in six children globally live in areas affected by armed conflict, facing a range of threats and challenges as a result. They are consistently killed and injured, subject to sexual violence, denied access to life-saving support, recruited and used by armed groups, forced to flee their homes and prevented from fulfilling their fundamental human rights. Too often, perpetrators of heinous acts involving children are not held to account.

This research paper deals with how those responsible for crimes and serious violations against children in conflict can be brought to justice. It looks at why, to date, such few examples exist of accountability for crimes against children. Specifically, it explores how governments, legal institutions, civil society and UN agencies can set a new path – one which prioritises and upholds children’s rights.

This study finds there are a few reasons why those committing crimes against children seldom face consequences for their actions. Perhaps the most important, is that governments are simply not making crimes against children a priority. As a result, neither is the international justice system. Without political and financial backing from governments, there are big gaps in expertise, tools, and structures which would deliver justice for children. Importantly, the research focuses on lessons and recommendations for action. This includes how sexual and gender-based violence became a central theme of the international justice system, as well as how the international community can put its weight behind innovation and the examples of best practice which already exist.


This research paper is a joint effort of the Programme on International Peace and Security, part of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC) at the Blavatnik School of Government, and Save the Children.

Save the Children approached the programme as part of their work for the centenary year in 2019, which saw a prioritisation of policy, advocacy and programming efforts to protect children in conflict. Led by the Principal Investigator, Federica D’Alessandra, researchers at the International Peace and Security programme were asked to develop new insight against one of three pillars of work identified by Save the Children as part of this work: holding perpetrators of grave violations against children to account (the other two pillars being: upholding standards and norms in conflict, and taking practical action to protect children and enable their recovery).